There is always a little consternation when a new mayor comes in and, having watched how the council rules work up close for the previous two years, has some ideas about changing things up.
Under current policy, individual public comments are limited to three minutes per individual “and 5 minutes for a person speaking on behalf of at least 5 people (who must stand at the dais with the speaker). The 5-minute policy has also been extended to individuals speaking on behalf of a recognized organization, such as Downtown Davis.”
Mayor Brett Lee writes in his submitted agenda: “The recommendation is to shorten this time period to 2.5 minutes – still ample time to share a message but a shortened period allowing for more people to speak during a public comment session. Members of the public are always able to provide written comments to the Council, via a handout or an email.”
The mayor has recommended setting a limit on the duration of overall general public comment.
He writes: “Every Council meeting must include a section for general public comment, for items not on the agenda or for individuals who cannot stay for an item on the agenda. The City Council has the ability to determine a reasonable length of time for the public comment period and to determine where on the agenda to place the public comment period.”
The mayor adds: “Davis has historically placed public comment early in the agenda, before regular items and the consent calendar. On occasion, the length of public comment has unexpectedly prevented the Council from addressing the agendized items on the regular and/or consent calendar. In order to better manage the meeting and ensure the Council is able to complete its agendized items, the recommendation is to limit the general public comment period at the beginning of the meeting to no more than 45 minutes.
“Anyone not able to comment during this time can speak at the end of the meeting in an additional public comment period, if needed. The same individual time parameters will apply. The intent is not to prevent individuals from speaking but to make sure that there is ample time to address items on the agenda.”
That would allow public comment period to officially go from 7:00 to 7:45. Under the proposed change, that would ostensibly limit the number of public comments to 18 using the maximum of 2.5 minutes. We would note that, even with three-minute comments, it is exceedingly rare that public comment goes past 8 pm.
The mayor is making additional changes as well.
There will be a new timer installed in the Chambers “so that members of the audience can clearly see the duration of public comments. This should make it easier for the speaker to manage his/her own time while addressing the Council.”
The mayor also discusses but rejects the idea of speaker cards. Mayor Lee writes: “The Council discussed on June 19 whether to implement speaker cards, as some public bodies have.”
One advantage to the speaker cards “is that the Council has a better idea how many people want to speak and can work to manage the time.”
On the downside, “speaker cards for general public comment and every regular item require a level of administrative coordination during the meeting that may be difficult to achieve. Some people feel that speaker cards make it easier for people unfamiliar with the process to speak; others feel that it complicates the process and is confusing for members of the public new to comment periods.”
The mayor concludes: “As there was no consensus on this during the previous Council meeting, there is no recommendation here to change the status quo, which does not require speaker cards.”
The mayor also addresses the times on the agenda and mid-meeting break. He notes that staff makes time estimates which assume that no part of the meeting is delayed. The result is that “the actual schedule is often out of sync with the published times on the agenda.
“Because it is difficult to predict exactly how long each item will take, a more reasonable approach to allowing for some flexibility is to build in a mid-meeting break,” writes Mayor Brett Lee. “If the Council is on or ahead of schedule, they can take the break. If the Council is behind schedule, they can shorten the break or delete it entirely.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting